Hamish's Dram Fyne Guide To Islay
Ah the beautiful Isle of Islay. Whilst she's only 239 miles squared, as of 2019 there are no less than eight distilleries on the island with another - Ardnahoe - due to open very soon. And these aren't just any old distilleries, these are known the world over for producing some of Scotland's finest whiskies.
Some of the reasons there are so many distilleries on Islay is due to the famed water purity, the abundance of different types of peat and the amount of barley that can be grown on the island. These factors and the incredible talents of the distillers on the island make for some of the best Scotch whiskies.
We'll chat more about my favourite Islay distilleries later on but Islay isn't just about whisky.
Islay, being an island, is surrounded by water and as well as shaping the climate of Islay it also makes for some stunning beaches. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the west of the island so these make for some rough seas and crashing waves at Saligo Bay. The bay is very much in the open so presents a breathtaking sunset. Perfect with a wee dram in hand!
On the east coast of Islay lies the magnificent Claggain Bay offering fantastic views of the mainland. Another wee spot I'd recommend is Kilnaughton Bay, a five minute drive from Port Ellen, the main port on the island.
Most of us know that Scotland is famed for its wildlife and Islay might just be the best place to come and see a lot of it. With over 100 miles of coastline and beaches, a ton of open farmland, mud flats and cliffs, Islay is home to a huge mix of wildlife.
Finding some of the 200 different species of bird on the island isn't hard at all as well as finding deer, wild hares, grey seals and if you're lucky maybe even an otter or two! Golden eagles, dolphins and even basking sharks have all been spotted on the island too. Imagine that, you wouldn't be catching me in those waters!
If you're a bit of a birdwatcher or just fancy a nosey RSPB Scotland have a reserve and visitor center at Loch Gruinart. This is the best place on the island to catch a glimpse of the rarer species of bird.
Whether you play off scratch, are a keen golfer or have never played before The Machrie Golf Links is one of the finest that Scotland has to offer. A traditional links course in the dunes of Islay, it's known as being one of the most stunning locations to play a round.
As well as the famous 18-hole links course The Machrie also has the 'wee course' consisting of six par-3 holes, a 5-bay covered driving range, short game area and a wonderful putting course.
Let's take a look at some of my favourite bottlings from the Isle of Islay.
Ardbeg have been in this grand auld game for over two centuries so it's no great surprise that they're widely revered as masters of their craft. What really makes an Ardbeg liquid stand out is the immense peat flavours which makes them them known to the smokiest malt in the business.
My personal favourite is Ardbeg Uigeadail, a bottle that takes its name from the brooding loch that provides the water for Ardbeg. The sherry cask influence deepens the palate and I especially love the long and chewy, black coffee and smoke finish.
Taking great pride in their rich heritage stemming from a long history of distillery managers over the past 200 years, with each manager having an influence on the liquids distilled whilst keeping the signature Laphroaig characteristics.
If I was to pick a particular bottling from Laphroaig it would have to be the 2006 from the First Editions range. This single cask expression from independent bottler Hunter Laing & Co. was distilled in 2006 at Islay's Laphroaig distillery before spending 11 years maturing in a refill sherry butt. Bottled in 2017 at a preferred strength of 46% abv without chill-filtration or colouring, only 592 bottles have been produced.
The liquids coming out of Bruichladdich Distillery are seeping with big and bold characteristics, which comes as no surprise as Bruichladdich view themselves as nonconformists. They understand distilling whisky as an art-form as opposed to merely being a process to produce the spirit. Due to this Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte bottlings are absolutely superb.
Take a look at the Bruicladdich Scottish Barley bottling. This really breaks the mould of Islay whisky with it being light and unpeated. Made from 100% Scottish barley, trickle distilled, then matured for its entire life by the shores of Lochindaal in premium American oak it's a testament to the quality of the ingredients.
In contrast Port Charlotte 10 Year Old is the flagship release in the heavily-peated Port Charlotte range from Bruichladdich. This single malt has been matured in a combination of first and second-fill American Whiskey casks and second-fill French wine casks. Bottled free from chill-filtration and artificial colouring at a strength of 50% abv.
Priding themselves on their signature unpeated style Bunnahabhain's distinct flavours come from the casks matured in their bay on the shores of the Isle of Islay, a wee stretch of water seperating Islay and the Isle of Jura.
A limited edition expression from Bunnahabhain Distillery has been hand-picked for The Loch Fyne range of single cask releases. Distilled on Islay in September 2005 and matured in sherry cask #1312 for 12 years before bottling in October 2017 at a preferred strength of 46% abv. Only 950 bottes have been produced, each one free from chill-filtration and artificial colouring.
Whisky has been distilled at the Bowmore Distillery since 1779 using the soft fresh water of the River Laggan. A Bowmoe whisky stands out by its balance and complexity and the liquids here have matured on the same site - the No.1 Vaults - for nearly 240 years. I know, pretty impressive eh.
Personally I can't get enough of the 15 Year Old expression. Maturing in a combination of both bourbon and sherry casks for 12 years, with the final three years being spent in Oloroso sherry casks, this whisky has a dark chocolate and sun dried fruits with the imitable Bowmore smoke. The palate ha rich treacle toffee and cinders and a full and succulent finish with sherried fruits and long lasting smokiness.
Caol Ila Distillery has the largest production volume on the island with its liquids being most notably used in Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal blends. However, their own bottlings offer a terrific wee dram.
The Caol Ila Distillers Edition is first matured in American oak and then further maturation in Moscatel wine casks, really bringing out smoky sweet characteristics and making for a real complex whisky. Would definitely recommend if you're looking for a crispier flavour.
Kilchoman are Islay's only farm distillery meaning that they take barley to bottle in one location. Fancy that!
Established in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new distillery to be built on Islay in over 120 years with the intention of bringing back the lost craft of farm distilling. Nearly 15 years on and Kilchoman are still the only Islay single malt produced on one single site.
Have you seen the Kilchoman 2006 Single Cask - Loch Fyne Exclusive? Distilled at Kilchoman on 4th May 2006 and matured in a single bourbon cask (#35/2006) for 12 years before being bottled exclusively for Loch Fyne Whiskies on 21st June 2018. Just 228 bottles have been filled from this single cask, each one individually numbered and presented free from chill-filtration and artificial colouring at a natural cask strength of 56.9% abv.
If you're looking to visit this wonderful part of the world there's a car ferry which operates from Kennacraig on the mainland to the island's ferry terminals at Port Askaig and Port Ellen. Don't forget to pop into our Inveraray store and say hello to yer auld pal Hamish as you'll be passing through our beautiful little town.